I am being controversial but honest, I find the Taj Mahal dull.
There you go, I have finally not only said it aloud, but put it in print and out there on the worldwideweb for all to see. I know I have visited it many times (forced by my career choice) but this ‘familiarity’ isn’t the reason. Even on my first visit I found it dull; it simply did not meet up to expectations. I saw it in the afternoon and was unmoved by the experience and so I went back again the following morning to see the changing hues and all that mallarcky and still no, nothing, I failed to be impressed. I would have been happier to have satisfied myself with the images in my head gleaned from photographs and to have used those 24 hours that I will never regain, more wisely. I fail to see why millions of people are in awe of it. Yes, architecture blah blah, white marble, symmetry and all that but no, for me, it was waste of time.
Perhaps it is just that my likes and tastes are not those which follow the norm. I hate Paris with a passion, think Mauritius is one of the most overrated islands on the planet, and Bhutan is as dull as dishwater.
However! Controversial I may be, but I do know that I am not the only person in the world to feel this about the Taj Mahal. Once, in the swimming pool at Brunton’s Boatyard in Cochin, both of which (the city and the hotel) never fail to impress me, I met a Mr Mahindra (yes of famed corporation) who agreed with my point of view and suggested that I visit the Sun Temple in Konark.
The fabulous Sun Temple at Konark, look how small the people are standing in front!
Now it took me a few years to get there, travel time to India was limited whilst working as an India ‘expert’ based in London and it was only when I moved to the country that I had time to travel as extensively as I wished. And boy did I travel! Every spare moment when not working I was on the road/train/tuk tuk/swanky car/camel/horse or elephant, and given that my job was, and still is, travel around India, I was traveling most of the time when I was working too. So it came to pass that I did get to visit the Sun Temple at Konark and let me tell you, that is a monument which really did impress. I was ‘wowed’! I could have spent the whole day there. It is truly incredible and even more so when you realise that it was built in the 13th Century and what would have been the most impressive section has been destroyed. The sheer scale of the place, the intricacy of the carvings, the stories they tell and the history ensconced therein is fascinating; you will see what I mean if you visit.
I have since visited many other incredible places in India which just don’t get the attention that the bloody Taj Mahal does. This is a crime and a situation which should be addressed. Everyone wants to visit the Taj, and so Jaipur invariably gets tagged on, the ‘famous’ and done to death Golden Triangle and people consider that having “done” these, to have ‘done’ India. No, no, no. I love Jaipur, don’t get me wrong, I lived there for goodness sake, but in Agra and Jaipur as a tourist, one experiences all that makes India irritating rather than ‘Incredible’. They are busy busy cities, throng with traffic and litter, one has to queue to see the sites whilst being incessantly harassed and hassled by touts and yet they remain the places people flock to when they ‘do’ India. No wonder people have such a negative view of such an incredible country when they immerse themselves in overpopulated cities and view this as the total of what the country has to offer. People, let me tell you, India is so much more. Be adventurous, stray away from convention and I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.
But, even if you do have to visit the better known destinations, take time, research, think differently, see beyond the hordes. I was recently asked by a five star hotel chain to come up with a series of day excursions that no other hotel chain, local or overseas agent were offering to their clients in the heavily populated (in terms of tourism) destinations of Jaipur and Udaipur.
I set to, internet research wasn’t up to this , so I got out my little black book, jumped in a car and off I went and I discovered some utter gems that people just don’t ever hear about! The Abhaneri step well, the ghost town of Bhangarh, the stunningly beautiful Raj Samand Lake surrounded by marble carvings, I found minor royalty who live in their forts and palaces as they always have done, not ones that have been converted into swanky hotels, and who were only too delighted to host lunch and chat about their lives.
I went to the temples at Nathdwara, saw Persian wheel wells still in use, I cycled from Delwara to Udaipur on the old road and it was stunningly beautiful! I went to the monkey temple at Galta and visited the original city palace in Amer, found astrologers who ‘work’ for their profession and not the money, rode Marwari horses through the countryside, trekked in nature reserves (and followed leopardprints) and on this whole incredible journey met the real people of India, ones who love their country, who truly treat guest as god and not, guest as someone to rip off.
And trust me, not all I discovered is mentioned here, I reckon it would be easy to spend at least 8 days each in Jaipur and Udaipur discovering the places no one tells you about!
When planning a trip for my brother, sister-in-law and 4 kids, for their first visit to the country, I didn’t include the Taj. I had 3 nephews and a niece to consider and so we went on safari, leopard safaris, cycling safaris, rode elephants and camels and got out into the countryside and met the people. Six years on, they still enthuse about the trip as the best they have ever done! Do they feel cheated that they didn’t see the Taj Mahal? No, not for a second.
So, take my advice, when planning a trip to India: think about what it is you want to experience and not what you think you should do. If you truly want to see the Taj Mahal, and most do, then great and if not, well, you can always photoshop a picture with you sitting on Lady Diana’s bench! My opinion is mine pretty much alone and certainly not shared by many. Perhaps it says something about my state of mind, lets face it, if you include the places on my ‘dislike’ list it seems I have an aversion to romance! So, if anyone out there thinks that they can alter my opinion of Mauritius, Paris or Bhutan, I am always open to offers!